Interim Nebraska AD Osborne fires Callahan

Updated: December 1, 2007, 10:23 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Under coach Tom Osborne, Nebraska was one of the bullies of college football, a program to be feared.

Under coach Bill Callahan, the Cornhuskers were too often the ones getting pushed around.

After watching Callahan's Huskers for five games, Osborne, in his new role as interim athletic director, decided it was time for change.

He fired Callahan during a five-minute meeting Saturday. ESPN's Joe Schad first reported the move.

"We used to be a team people hated to play," Osborne said during a news conference, "because they felt it for two or three weeks."

Callahan left the football complex without speaking to reporters.

The move was expected after the Huskers finished 5-7 with Friday's 65-51 loss at Colorado, a game in which they squandered an 11-point halftime lead by allowing 34 consecutive points.

Callahan had said after the game he enjoyed his time at Nebraska.

"I have no regrets," he said.

Osborne said he had told Callahan in late October that the coach would lose his job if he didn't have a winning record this season. The Huskers kept losing -- and losing big, with five defeats by at least 18 points. That included a 76-39 embarrassment at Kansas, the most points ever allowed by Nebraska.

"You have to play with intensity. These coaches tried very hard to have that happen. Yet sometimes you didn't see the effort and intensity you like to see in a football game," Osborne said.

LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini and Buffalo coach Turner Gill are the names mentioned most often to lead a program that was once one of college football's most prestigious.

Maisel: Arrested Development

Nebraska hired Bill Callahan to arrest a slide, but the Huskers' slide accelerated during his tenure and the coach never won the hearts and minds in Lincoln, writes Ivan Maisel. Story

Nebraska's dismal season followed one in which it reached the Big 12 championship game.

Osborne's decision came one month and a day after Callahan said, "I have done an excellent job in every area." Osborne apparently thought otherwise after only the second losing season at Nebraska since 1962, both coming on Callahan's watch.

It will cost the university more than $3.1 million to buy out Callahan's contract, which was to run through the 2011 season. The new contract was signed in September before the firing of athletic director Steve Pederson, who hired Callahan.

"If you lose a fairly large number of games by a significant margin and you have reasonably good players, which I think we have, then that means there may be some systematic issues, some underlying issues," Osborne said. "I don't think the coaches were incompetent. I think they know what they're doing. But there was something missing, as far as I was concerned."

Osborne said he had not yet spoken with any coaching candidates.

"The next few days I'll try to talk to four or five people," he said. "I would like to move it along as fast as I can because recruiting is really critical at this time."

Pelini was Nebraska's defensive coordinator in 2003 and was popular among fans, who chanted "We want Bo" after he led the Huskers to an Alamo Bowl win over Michigan State as interim head coach following the firing of Frank Solich.

Gill, a longtime assistant under Osborne and Solich, was the Huskers' quarterback in the early 1980s and a Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1983. Osborne said he still talks with Gill about once a week.

Callahan came nowhere near meeting the high standards for Nebraska football established by Osborne, who won 255 games and three national championships in 25 seasons before retiring after the 1997 season.

Huskers Make History

The Nebraska Cornhuskers defense was historically bad this year. How bad? Here's a list of some of the "bad" defensive records set by this year's Blackshirts crew:

2007 Previous record (Year)
TD passes allowed 20 19 (1948)
Total TDs allowed 59 41 (1948, 2002)
Total yards allowed 5,722 5,067 (2002)
Total YPG allowed 476.8 379.5 (1948)
Points allowed 455 335 (2002)
PPG allowed 37.9 32.6 (1943)
First downs allowed 229 272 (2002)
Comp pct allowed 57.7 56.7 (2004)
Sacks 13 25 (2000,'04)
Takeaways 11 19 (1962, '93, 2000)

The Huskers' defense posted some of the nation's worst statistics this season and their offense fell flat in the biggest games, leading to a five-game losing streak.

Callahan's four-year record was 27-22, with three of those wins coming against opponents in the division formerly known as I-AA. He was 15-18 against the Big 12, 0-7 against top 10 opponents and 3-10 against the Top 25. He was 0-17 in games in which the Huskers trailed at halftime.

The Huskers lost three home games for the first time since 1968 and allowed 40 points or more in six games for the first time, leading to heavy criticism of defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove.

Osborne said he never asked Callahan to fire Cosgrove or any other assistants in order to save his own job.

"The head coach is responsible for the defense and kicking game and the whole deal," Osborne said. "That's why you're the head coach. You're responsible for hiring those people, so I was not going to tell Bill Callahan who he had to keep and who he had to let go. Bill Callahan is where the buck stops."

When the Huskers were 4-4, Osborne said, he told Callahan that if the team finished 8-4, there would be no coaching change and that if he won three of the last four games "we can maybe make it work."

"If it's two out of four, it's going to be pretty tough because now you're break-even, and we haven't had many break-even seasons around here," Osborne said he told Callahan. "And if we have a losing season, there isn't any way this will work. The parameters were pretty clearly spelled out."

Callahan was widely acclaimed for his recruiting, and each of his classes was ranked high by analysts. But many of those players never delivered, and Callahan's ability to develop talent was questioned.

The Huskers won their first two games this season, but a 49-31 home loss to Southern California proved ominous, as did an embarrassingly close 41-40 home win over Ball State.

"The USC game took a lot out of people," safety Ben Eisenhart said. "People put a lot into that game, everybody was excited to play and it didn't come out like we thought it would. Then we come out against Ball State the following week and it's 41-40. It's like we got knocked off track, and it was really hard for us to get back on track."

There were losses of 41-6 to Missouri, 45-14 to Oklahoma State, 36-14 to Texas A&M, 28-25 to Texas and, worst of all, the debacle at Kansas.

Also on Callahan's tab was the 70-10 loss at Texas Tech in 2004, the most one-sided defeat in the program's 118-year history.

Callahan came in with much bluster, saying he would "flip the culture." That meant dumping the triple-option offense employed by Osborne and Solich and installing the West Coast offense.

His 2004 team went 5-6, ending an NCAA-record 35-year bowl streak. The '05 team won three straight to finish 8-4, beating Michigan in the Alamo Bowl. That set the stage for last year, when the Huskers went 9-5 and swept all six games against the Big 12 North.

But this season took a horrible turn and the players sensed Callahan's firing was imminent.

"It's Nebraska," I-back Cody Glenn said. "We don't have 5-7 seasons. So you know after a season like that, something's going to happen."

Information from ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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